Learning predictive statistics: Strategies and brain mechanisms

Rui Wang, Yuan Shen, Peter Tino, Andrew E. Welchman, Zoe Kourtzi*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


When immersed in a new environment, we are challenged to decipher initially incomprehensible streams of sensory information. However, quite rapidly, the brain finds structure and meaning in these incoming signals, helping us to predict and prepare ourselves for future actions. This skill relies on extracting the statistics of event streams in the environment that contain regularities of variable complexity from simple repetitive patterns to complex probabilistic combinations. Here, we test the brain mechanisms that mediate our ability to adapt to the environment’s statistics and predict upcoming events. By combining behavioral training and multisession fMRI in human participants (male and female), we track the corticostriatal mechanisms that mediate learning of temporal sequences as they change in structure complexity. We show that learning of predictive structures relates to individual decision strategy; that is, selecting the most probable outcome in a given context (maximizing) versus matching the exact sequence statistics. These strategies engage distinct human brain regions: maximizing engages dorsolateral prefrontal, cingulate, sensory–motor regions, and basal ganglia (dorsal caudate, putamen), whereas matching engages occipitotemporal regions (including the hippocampus) and basal ganglia (ventral caudate). Our findings provide evidence for distinct corticostriatal mechanisms that facilitate our ability to extract behaviorally relevant statistics to make predictions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8412-8427
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number35
Publication statusPublished - 30 Aug 2017


  • FMRI
  • Learning
  • Prediction
  • Vision


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